Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hot Rod drives into the sunset

It seemed appropriate last night that when the Jazz made their last rally against the Lakers, it was led by Ronnie Price and Paul Millsap. They were the ones responsible for the team making it that far in the first place. Price held the ship together early in the season while Deron was out with his ankle injury, and Millsap got All-Star consideration for the way he covered Boozer's spot for over half the season.

Unfortunately, Millsap hit a wall around the All-Star break and was never quite the same. And I still don't know what happened with Ronnie. I keep waiting for some story to break about him conducting human sacrifices in the locker room or trying to recruit Sloan into Amway, something to justify the late-season benching.

Whatever the reasons, it was nice to see the team-not just Deron Williams-play like they cared for a while last night. That was the craziest thing about this season. Normally a series with LA would bring out a whole bevy of anxieties and frustrations, but this time around, the Hollywood crowd didn't even bother me. Ultimately, the demise of the 2008-09 Utah Jazz was self-inflicted.

At least that last run late in the fourth quarter gave Hot Rod Hundley something more interesting to call in his last game. It's hard to believe that guy has been calling games longer than most of my friends and I have been alive. When I started listening to him, "Big Mark" Eaton was still swatting shots, Darrell Griffith was hitting three-pointers from the parking lot, and Ricky Green was still "the fastest of them all." Stockton was still just "Little John." And by that time, Hot Rod had already been at it for almost fifteen years.

I remember eating at his restaurant back in the early 90's and getting a stack of team photos. I remember reading his autobiography and smiling at how crazy it was that a showboat party man like him would wind up calling games coached by Jerry Sloan in the Mormon Heartland. Best of all, I remember hearing over and over how people would turn down the volume when the Jazz were on national TV, and turn up Hot Rod's radio feed because he called the games so much better than the network honks. Fittingly, Boler and Boone turned over the last five minutes of last night's game to Hot Rod before the final buzzer sounded.

I never did get to meet him, though I did see him in the press room the few times I've gone to shoot Jazz games in the last couple of years. If I ever do run into him, I think maybe I'll ask him to tag along and give live play-by-play of one of my dates. He's offered me so much entertainment over the years, the least I can do is offer the same.